15.2 \ 197

Eyes open, ready to give and receive respect. Princess Ascendant Soleil, Magus, of the Pan-Galactic Imperium, was permitted to choose who she would meet from among those gathered. The chamber was peopled with more than she could possibly match forces with at once, though all would at least be witness to this. While those nearer her had arranged with greater anticipation, her discretion would determine a better audience by cultivating a direct sense of invitation.

Somehow, imagining herself bare nude actually helped. It was close to the truth of the feeling, presenting herself as herself. The challenge of transparency was easy to analogize with the undressed body. Imperfections would be apparent, and she had to make no effort to hide them, but consider them a necessary fraction of her presentation. So with this bareness of feeling, she walked over to the first Aureny awaiting.

They stamped and lowered their head to ground story, presenting their flat capital plate to Soleil, exceeding her height with it. One dust-clearing huff came from the four pits behind the lowered plate ridge. With a two-handed horsewhack, she set her hands firmly against the skullplate, opposite her shoulders. The manner of these people was brisk, and etiquette expressed with precisely directed force. Soleil could recognize etiquette in a new form, and she reflected it at her own volumes. On the second sharp exhale, the Aureny made a slight nod of contact acknowledgment. Then with the third breath, they gave each other weight.

The inexorable movement began at a stretching rate of moments. In the intense condensation of focus that suddenly occurred, she felt each grain of movement, responding equally in time with another grain of her own. Their masses differed, but there was an intentional equality of effort. Though she knew they’d overcome her, she fluidly gave her hands, elbows, and shoulders more of her might. Soleil’s feet planted deeper into the stone of the ledge, leveling her angle as though she could hold the other back while the pressure mounted. She held her root and sank up against this obstacle, which continued to move in knowledgable response to each drop of Soleil’s force.

Her back was to the chasm, with nothing obstructing the edge. She knew that she could die. Choosing this journey had been like leaping an edge already, and she had since chosen it again. She could be no less committed at this moment, and not only on her behalf. The lot of royalty meant that she didn’t know most of the people she was fighting for, but she knew she must – even if she wasn’t entirely sure what she was fighting in order to prevent the worst.

15.1 \ 197

It was a long walk for Soleil, and a shorter one for Mystvall as they led her to the spiral where her introductions would occur. Rosy Glow didn’t walk, she floated. They reached an archway with a large space beyond a ledge. Mystvall stamped a foot in acknowledgment and signaled Soleil through the archway with pointing chin.

Soleil stepped onto the ledge and faced the chamber. It was a round chasm with no floor in sight. This ledge, the width of two or three Aureny, extended spiraling down the side of the pit past various openings. Many Aureny stood awaiting on this ledge, each looking as mighty as the previous. Soleil knew this wasn’t about the strength of her arms. It would be the solidity of her will, the honesty of her desire, the force of her intention, the clarity of her being, and the wholeness of her understanding that would keep her from getting thrown off a ledge or crushed against a wall. Their language occurred in vibrations she couldn’t perceive; she chose to believe that they could sense these things, not wishing to die of skepticism. Skepticism may have been a part of the beginning of this trouble. This was a very formal place for introduction.

She undid her long dark hair, letting it swing down her back and over her shoulders. Soleil zipped her control gloves away in her Vedani piloting suit, and considered Rosy Glow where she sat on a radiant crystal sconce. She sent a small smile. This would not require translation.

14.4 \ 196

In a simple stone chamber, the three faced each other and began the instruction. Rosy Glow’s interpreted voice of the Aureny Mystvall was resonant, lucid, and rolling.

OUR FORMAL GREETING IS KNOWN AS MATCHING FORCES.
GIVE IT YOUR FULL MIGHT, AND NO LESS.
NOT FOR OVERPOWERING THE OTHER, BUT TO TRANSMIT YOUR TRUTH.
THIS BRINGS US TO A PLACE OF HONESTY.
OUR SENSES ARE HONED FOR THAT, IF YOURS ARE NOT.

ALONG THE SPIRAL,
WHERE YOU WILL MAKE YOUR INTRODUCTIONS,
YOU MAY PLACE YOUR BACK TO A WALL OR A PRECIPICE.
IF YOUR INTENT IS TO DECEIVE,
IF YOU ARE PERCEIVED AS BEING LESS THAN COMPLETELY HONEST,
ONE MAY CHOOSE TO CRUSH YOU OR TOSS YOU.
WE WILL NOT SUFFER THAT FOOLISHNESS.
YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO OVERPOWER A SINGLE ONE OF US.
GIVE US YOUR REAL FORCE, AND WE WILL MATCH FORCES.
AS MANY OF US AS YOU CAN GREET UNTIL YOU ARE EXHAUSTED,
WILL BE THOSE OF US YOU MAY ADDRESS AT A SUBSEQUENT TIME.

Mystvall coached Soleil on the physical application until she could confidently and correctly co-initiate. From everything she’d gleaned, avarice was the foremost human quality they’d encountered. Through a simmering shame, the Princess Ascendant aimed to display a different side of humanity – to state through action that the peoples of the Pan-Galactic Imperium were greater than a terrible first contact.

14.3 \ 196

Rosy Glow zipped over the entire group in circles, leaving an evanescent wake of sparkling pink that really alleviated the mood. Some of the Aureny took on communicative announcer postures. The lingering pink twinkles scattered by the Kao-Sidhe coalesced into focused beams of visualization that moved with conscious vibration, like smoke in the air revealing ripples of breath and speech.

Rosy Glow audially translated speech that she could apparently understand, with character tones that carried eerie clarity of individuality – for something coming from a completely different vibrational language pattern.

YOU ARE BRAVE, COMING TO US HERE.
HUMAN BEINGS ARE FRAGILE WITHOUT YOUR MACHINES OF DESTRUCTION, WHICH HAVE CAUSED US EXTREME SORROW.
HERE AND NOW, WE ARE GIVING YOU A BETTER CHANCE NOT TO SUFFER LIKEWISE WHEN THE DECISION RESTS IN OUR MOMENT.
WE ARE GOING TO LEARN ABOUT YOU.

Soleil stepped out from the edge of the group to address them. “I also wish to learn, in order to know what must be done.” Announce yourself by fitting your role, not speaking your title, she remembered from a dim motherly lesson.

WE WILL HAVE YOU INTRODUCE YOURSELF ACCORDING TO OUR CUSTOM.
MYSTVALL WILL BE THE ONE TO TEACH YOU ABOUT MATCHING FORCES.
THEY – translated Rosy Glow, selecting the ungendered pronoun not of the draconid set – WILL BRING YOU TO A PLACE OF PREPARATION.

Derringer looked down at himself as he stepped forward.

NOT YOU.
ONLY HER. The Aureny speaking indicated Soleil with their pointed chin.
THE REST OF YOU MAY WAIT IN A PLACE WHERE NOURISHMENT WILL BE PROVIDED.

Everyone regarded Soleil, and she looked back at them gravely as she separated herself further from the group by a couple steps.

THE TRANSLATOR WILL ACCOMPANY HER.
GO NOW.

As she moved to follow Mystvall, the Princess Ascendant looked back over her shoulder at each of her traveling group, saying nothing as she disappeared. Rosy Glow bobbed a courtesy and followed them away, humming.

14.2 \ 196

Derringer stepped out first. He’s a natural icebreaker. He looked up, beyond double the height of the open hatch, probably more than triple. Fakking huge, looking – or breathing – right at him. He couldn’t tell if those were eyes or nostrils, where the other set might be or if that were one set of each. They knew he was there, and they knew he was looking at them.

The rest were stepping out around him. The ones who’d already met them said they called themselves Aureny. Their frontal skull ridge resembled a clothing iron turned upside down, like a captain’s hat with a peak facing front, defining a flat capital plateau the size of a corner stage. Four nostrils or eyes or both or neither in a row beneath the edge of the cap. There was more to them than that, but Derringer was still taking in that impression. Seven of them formed a wedge surrounding Drift X’s hold hatch.

Their stony-hided shoulders were subtended with different amounts of grey ropy fur matted into giant knotted locks. The surface of their skins looked like ancient rock. Derringer watched as one turned its head and gnashed its ridged crescent dental platforms. Colonnade front limbs rolled under their bison hunches. Longfooted back legs like excavators, and a pointy chin to match the captain’s apex.

Once the entire visiting party was standing amongst them, the Aureny thrust their heads close to scrutinize the tiny beings. They made a jaw percussion to acknowledge sentient presence. The one positioned in front drew up, and beckoned them sidelong as it turned. The rest repeated the dexterous ironclawed gesture to follow along. They formed a slowly moving spear with the visitors in the center. They paused between each step, so that the tiny steps could keep pace. They walked on the scale of architecture toward the opening of a weathered natural corrosion.

This subterranean entrance was undifferentiated from any other hole in the ground. Walking with them, their grievance was dawning on Soleil – who divined, from the entirely natural appearance of this opening, that their sentience might be overlooked if one were not attempting to observe it. This included their apparent absence of appearance alteration such as ornament or clothing, at least as of yet.

Soleil could clearly recall the feeling of meeting people such as these, from her dream trance, completing all the presences she’d encountered. Their expressions were so alien, but she could perceive the depth of their complexity. Having mouths was a relatable trait.

As they descended through that opening, sheer walls rose to either side, forming a chasm where they walked the bottom under dim diffusion of faraway skylights. Toller was the first to notice more of the Aureny people looking out from openings in the sheer cliffs, reminding him of the subterranean apartments in Anzi. Before he’d made any mention, something shiny and large came hurtling toward them from one above. “Falling!” he yelled, laying a hand on the nearest person who was Wendel. The humans looked up in alarm, but before they scattered, their point escort reared up, caught the object, and shrugged it on. It was a metal ornament that draped from shoulder to powerful shoulder, gorgeously fashioned and set with gems. Another flew from a different opening, caught by another Aureny along their stately progression. The small humans relaxed once it seemed they were not the target of these projectiles, and they hardly flinched at all under directed velocities. Their escorts didn’t miss a catch, and soon all were fully bedecked, armored or adorned, including rings for their fur locks that were big enough for Soleil to put her head through.

The one walking point stopped their progress and turned to face the guests. They heard nothing, but Rosy Glow said, “You may now remove your breathing cloths.” Hand-sized, she’d been floating along without need for a breathing adaptation. After wiping down her face, Soleil tied each cool cloth around a wrist. A long huff of breath from the Aureny facing them rolled across her, lifting her hair a little. It smelled of flowers.

The chasm had grown several stories deep; they’d descended a ways, and were continuing onward. The workmanship worn by these Aureny was fascinating, and Soleil stared. Variegated shimmering textures showed off bizarrely unfamiliar alloys and forging techniques. It wasn’t just the metals which were new and strange, but the gems as well. Soleil had seen gems and physical elements aplenty. Many of these were also glowing enough for their eyes to see by, innovatively charged and possibly of additional values of phronium spectra. It was not often Soleil felt faced with people richer than she, and beyond that she felt a burning curiosity regarding all these novelties beyond compare. She was forming more guesses as to how grievances began.

Through another deeper archway, perhaps not entirely natural. The small group was flanked within by a pair of receiving columns, who then closed the back of their formation. The Aureny closed into a circle to regard the envoys for a long time, as though not crushing them was the greatest of courtesies.